Years of ‘corpse meditation’ now serving monks well

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“We just sort of live in denial of the fact that we have all these organs and bones and liquids and fluids,” Siripanyo Bhikkhu said.

“We are obsessed with the externals. No one wants to see the internals. But we try to see them in an equal light, neither delighting nor being repelled by the attractive or the unattractive signs of the external or the internal,” he said.

“It is very common with us to have [corpse meditation] pictures with us, to use them, or just to have in your hut, or have with you when you are eating, or just to look at and to contemplate,” he said.

“It sounds incredibly gruesome and almost bizarre. But it is totally, totally normal and understood in Thailand,” continued the monk, who sat cross-legged on the grass at Phuket City Hall, which has become a disaster-relief center.

“That’s what monasteries are for: They remind us of the true nature of life, which is this impermanence and transitory nature.”

Although the daily cremations of tsunami victims at temples along the west coast of Thailand evoke misery and despair for many witnesses, members of this Buddhist-majority society have a unique way of grieving.

“When we have cremations in our monasteries, basically they are open — so, as the coffin burns, the corpse is then burning on a wooden pyre,” Siripanyo Bhikkhu said.

“All the relatives, all the kids will go and view the corpse, will just stand around and watch granny burning,” he said. “It’s very, very normal. Very much at the heart of this place is impermanence.”

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